In this age of digital transformation, nothing is more suitable for a remake than the enterprise data center. The demands of a service-driven economy are quickly proving to be too much for rigid, silo-based infrastructure, and this is before we begin to contemplate the implications of Big Data and the Internet of Things.
But if the future of enterprise infrastructure is pointing toward software-defined architectures built atop commodity, white box hardware, why do the leading vendors continue to push the big, integrated systems of the past?
According to Synergy Research Group, vendor revenue across seven key enterprise segments declined 1 percent in the past year, which is only about $900,000, but it’s a loss nonetheless when data loads are jumping through the roof. The group says aggregate revenue across key areas like servers, storage and networking topped $88 billion, with servers showing the largest decline of about 5 percent. Even the enterprise voice and telepresence market, which should be quite healthy given the rise of the mobile workforce, is under pressure due to aggressive pricing and market disruption.
If you look at the sales and marketing strategies of most IT vendors, says tech consultant Vinnie Mirchandani, you’ll see that they are still talking in terms of improving their share of the IT spend in large, integrated platforms even as their customers are calling for smaller components and the ability to develop their own applications and architectures. This is leading many enterprise buyers to skip the messy process of building and provisioning infrastructure in favor of more agile cloud services that tend to conform more closely to the changing business processes they are experiencing. Of course, it is the rare vendor that does not incorporate the cloud into its platform, but in most cases these are simply the same processes delivered over the same user interface rather than a completely new user experience backed by automation.
This trend is further reflected in the fact that enterprises are ramping up deployment of software-defined infrastructure, which allows them greater flexibility to build their own data architectures on commodity hardware, and then link these to the cloud. Technavio estimates that the market for software-defined data centers (SDDCs) will see compound annual growth of 20 percent through 2021, with initial deployments largely mirroring infrastructure frameworks of traditional data centers; that is, software-defined compute, storage and networking. And while leading platform vendors like Cisco and HPE are moving forward with SDDC products, it is questionable whether they will be able to maintain the same levels of revenue from abstract infrastructure as they have with their integrated hardware/software portfolios.
The one traditional vendor that seems the furthest along in the transition to next-gen infrastructure is IBM, says Forbes’s Janakiram MSV. The company shed much of its standard server, storage and networking portfolio several years ago and is now modeling itself as a cloud services provider for the digital era. The company is utilizing a combination of its Watson analytics platform and BlueMix cloud to provide services centering on the Blockchain digital ledger, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things. In this way, the company hopes to deliver highly intuitive IaaS and PaaS services that allow companies to rebuild their infrastructure around the fast-moving service environments that are increasingly out-performing traditional business models. (Disclosure: I provide content services to IBM.)
Clearly, the traditional data center will remain a facet of enterprise data infrastructure for a while longer. You just don’t pull the plug on decades of investment at the drop of a hat.
But when it comes to planning for the future, more and more enterprises are starting to see that the old ways of using data are falling short, and that an entirely new approach to infrastructure, architecture and the processes they support is warranted.
This may be a first for the data industry, but it is nothing new in the modern world. And vendors that do not embrace the change in a meaningful way are not likely to see this particular transformation to its conclusion.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.